31 January 2011

The Cost of Public Education

For the five of you that have been following the BlazeBlog since the beginning of time, please forgive the next 5 or six sentences. For the rest of you, here's the short version:

When I started this blog, I didn't intend for it to become a place for me to talk about educational philosophy and vaccines. Instead, I started it to complain about the general non-sense that public school teachers deal with on a daily basis. Don't believe me? Fine, don't. But don't think that I won't link to that post anyway. BOOYAH! 

I think the closing paragraph in that post sums up most of my complaints. I've never been angry about the kids being dumb. It's the people that make larger decisions that frustrate me. I told you, my not-at-all-random reader, that I was going to write about dumb decisions from above. Then, I didn't do that. I mostly talked about Jenny McCarthy and the socialization function of schools. I also put up some videos. These things were fun, but they missed the point. 

Meanwhile, the school district I work for was busy making all kinds of stupid decisions, and here I was, not ranting about them. I'll be honest, I'm more disappointed with myself than  Howard Dean after he got too excited in Iowa

But now, the board has served up a pitch so in my wheel-house that I have to swing for the fences.

Our board is currently dealing with a financial crisis. The voters haven't approved a new bond or property tax increase in several years. As state funding has fallen, we have found ourselves short of cash. This has led to many cutbacks. In fact, a recent press release acknowledged that "financial stress is the new normal". We will ignore what that says about society in general for today, because I have more pressing things to complain about. To help make ends meet, our board voted to end bus service for the 2011-2012 school year. This is a savings of $3.5 million. 

I could launch into a tirade about how cutting bus service hurts the students most in need; I could talk about how those are the students schools most need to help; I could drag you along for yet another discussion about diversity and schools and society. I won't. Why, you ask? Because the board followed up that cost cutting measure with a decision so mind-numbingly, reason-defyingly, undeniably bone-headed that I can't even get to busing today. 

My school district has recently begun to institute a "innovation" plan. (I know this doesn't seem like a good segue; stick with me.) This plan will move control of hiring, firing, and money spending from the central office to the building level. This seems like a good idea. In fact, I think it's a pretty good idea. However, to implement this "innovation plan" (which is really an attempt to "charterize" the public schools), some central office employees need to become obsolete, and therefore get eliminated. 

No, not "eliminated" like an enemy of the State in Soviet Russia, but they'll need to look for new work. The problem is that they negotiated contracts which would last through the end of the world May of 2012. So, to move forward more quickly, and honor contracts made by the previous board (even though at least one board member was on that board as well), the board bought out three contracts. The cost?


Yes, you read that correctly. Three upper level administrators, losing 18 months of their contracts, will be paid more than $230,000 each, including retirement benefits. That means that they were making, if we get rid of the benefits part, and round down to an estimated $200,000 for those 18 months, $11,000 per month prior to taxes. I make around $35,000 a year. These goons were making more than my yearly salary over summer break. I haven't had a raise, not even a cost-of-living adjustment, in 3 years. I work at a school with a plain concrete block room with folding chairs that is called an auditorium. We won't have transportation next year, but the head of our IT department was making superintendant money.

But, you know, teachers' unions are the problem. Wait? Did I just link to myself sarcastically? Hang on. Ok, how about this one? Yes, that story is better. Problems in education funding are all about those evil unions. Definately not about Boards of Education making bad decisions. I mean, that's just non-sense.

Enough of that, lets get down to the part where the board explains their reasoning.

The board defended its decision by saying they would rather just honor the contracts and eliminate the positions, instead of keeping people in obsolete positions, doing menial tasks.

Now, I would note that obviously I'm in favor of cutting these positions. But why pay these three folks for the remainder of their contract, and let them walk? Hell, I'll stop working and take the next 18 months of my salary while I search for a new job. Where do I sign up?

I don't give a damn if you make these three clean toilets (or perhaps drive buses), but for 3/4 of a MILLION dollars, you probably shouldn't cut them free. I'm sure you can find something for them to do. 

In fact, to demonstrate what they could do, I've compiled a partial list of things I would do, for $233,000, which is about what they will each take home:

1. Clean every toilet in the district.
2. Shave my head.
3. Eat a sandwich made entirely of rotten eggs.
4. Teach.
5. Take over public relations for the district. In fact, to demonstrate my qualifications for this role, some free advice, just for Board of Education: The order of the two things you did in the last month should have been contract buy-outs, THEN cutting services)
6. Create an entire curriculum on fiscal responsibility.
7. Grade every single thing I assign.
8. Buy a Corvette.
9. Buy a Chevette.
10. Throw a really bitching prom.

Now, our board couched their decision in some bureaucratic language about "the business model" and how change always incurs some cost. Is this the future of education?

Well, if it is, it won't be long until schools are back where they started, because this kind of news from an "innovative" school district will kill "innovation". Actually, you know what? Buy out more contracts! Bankrupt the district! But do it all in the name of "innovation". That way the people know exactly what to blame.

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